Ellen Schiller, Benjie

Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller is both the first woman to be a full time faculty member at the School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and a composer of sacred music. Born in New York on April 14, 1958 to Miriam and Nathan Schiller, Cantor Schiller studied voice and composition, and received a B. M. in Theory and Composition at Boston University in 1980. She continued graduate studies there in voice and choral conducting, and shortly thereafter, married Rabbi Lester Bronstein in June, 1981.

She attended the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College in New York and was invested in 1987. Her Master Thesis composition was “Life Song Cycle.” Cantor Schiller also became a full time faculty member and taught courses in cantillation, basic nusach (prayer modes) and the in-depth study of repertoire for Shabbat. Her liturgical compositions “V’yeetayu” was featured on the American Public Radio program Days of Awe: Music for the Jewish High Holy Days in 1991. “Zeh Dodi” (1991), “May You Live to See Your World Fulfilled” (1997) and “One Generation Goes” (1997), were published by Transcontinental Music.

Cantor Schiller has also received many commissions from synagogues, organizations and institutions including “Mi Shebeirach” (1988), “Shabbat Evening Service” (1991), “Hannah” (1995) performed in Merkin Hall, New York, “L’chaim U’l’shalom” (1998) and “B’or’cha Nireh Or”(1999).

Cantor Schiller performs and teaches widely including co-director of the philanthropic choral group, “Beged Kefet.” She has appeared as a classical soprano soloist with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the John Oliver Chorale, the Boston Zamir Chorale and Sine Nomine of New York. She was also a fellow of Synagogue 2000 in California. She has appeared at the North American Jewish Choral Festival, at congregations around the northeastern United States and with the Zimmerman Institute (1997).

Recordings include two with “Beged Kefet” with songs such as “Ki B’Simcha Tetzeyu/Go Out in Joy” (1991), musical cassettes to accompany the Reconstructionist Kol Haneshamah home prayerbook, Shirim Uv’rachot, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations’s Come let Us Welcome the Sabbath. She is a featured cantor in Yamim Noraim, (1995) recording of High Holy Day music published by Transcontinental, and also appeared in A Taste of Eternity with the Western Wind musical ensemble.

Cantor Schiller lectures on Jewish music including topics on spirituality, music as a path to healing, stylistics of congregational singing, and trends of modern synagogue music, medieval Jewish music, and the role of music in the Jewish life cycle. She has written on the topic of the development of Reform music and on the future of Jewish sacred music including “The hymnal as an index of musical change in Reform synagogues” in Sacred Sound and Social Change: Liturgical Music in Jewish and Christian Experience,(1992).

Cantor Schiller serves as the high holy day cantor at Bet Am Shalom Synagogue of White Plains, New York where her husband is Rabbi. They have three children, Liba, Yoni, and Avi.
By J. Pinnolis. 03/2000.